Social Media & Technical Communication

As social media continues to permeate into our daily lives, it’s hard not to wonder if its evolving influence will mean the end of good writing. From strict character limits, to text speak and hashtags, social media has created a space for quick information – disrupting the standard writing process. The students from the reading express their concerns about the “immediacy of social media” and “carelessness about the craft of writing” (60). While it seems they have a point, social media’s ties to technical communication may have a more positive impact than one might think.

communication bulb

Social media has transformed the way consumers engage with technical communication by turning readers into active participants. While technical communication serves to inform the reader, social media opens a dialogue between the author and reader. The reading touches on two concepts that help bridge the gap between social media and technical communication – reach and crowd sourcing. Hurley and Hea (2014) quote Pearson’s definition of reach as “the ability to form relationships, address user interests, and determine long-term effects of networking,” and crowdsourcing as “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditional have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization” (57). Applying these two communicative strategies allows the author to think critically about how the content will both inform and engage readers. In this context, social media channels can be an effective and meaningful form of technical communication.

In terms of reach, it is the author’s responsibility to prepare content that will inform readers, address their needs, and keep them interested. As the author continues to engage with readers, the author’s online presence grows, establishing credibility. In return, the reader can voice their opinions and provide feedback, allowing an opportunity for the author to refine their work. This type of collaboration is aimed toward a specific communicative goal that creates a space for “acquiring knowledge through interaction” (61). As a technical writer, I see this process every day. The engineering department implements a new product feature, they select a group to perform user testing, and the field testers report back on their findings. Engineering then evaluates the needs of the collective audience to determine the pros and cons of the new feature. Social media channels work in a similar way and can make it even easier for the author, considering they can reach audiences faster and more efficiently. From how-to videos, to blog posts, and other training material, engagement with consumers on a digital platform allows the readers to establish a relationship with a given brand or product, creating brand loyalty and product insight.

Source: Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.

Posted on September 17, 2020, in Social Media, Technology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. rebeccaanderson8641

    Hi Bonnie, Interesting post! I have considered at length how both reading and writing in the digital space will impact our long term understanding of these skills and activities. I’ve read several numerous studies that position reading and writing in the digital space as a negative and a positive! This is what leads me to the conclusion that reading and writing online might not be better or worse, just different!
    I wanted to further discuss one aspect of your post. You mention how it is the “author’s responsibility” to craft content that will meet the audience’s needs. Writing for the audience is one of those basic tenets of technical communication, but it takes on a new meaning online. It can be difficult to clearly define your audience when your content is available to all! Take this very course, for example! In writing our blog posts, we need to have clear references to the reading that include as much information as possible so that as the course changes and readings are removed or added, our audience can still access the source material. Our audience is so much more vast in this space than it would be if the blog were contained to just our class. This presents us with an opportunity as writers to develop greater reach, as you rightly say, but it makes the definition of the audience more difficult. Can we truly write for an audience of students years down the line? What does writing for such a vast audience look like? When making these considerations in this blog, I tend to focus more on content and interest than malleable group characteristics such as demographics (as we know, the demographics of student groups changed significantly with the introduction of online schooling!). I do think it is interesting to consider that this class is titled “Communication Strategies for Emerging Media”. Will there be a time when “emerging” is dropped from the title and future students look back at our blog posts as a relic of a past time? Hopefully we can contribute to that audience’s wealth of knowledge as well with our own timely reflections!
    It does raise the question though, how does writing for an audience look different in the digital space when there is significantly more vast and longer term reach potential?
    Great job on your post!

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